When I was growing up, after a long day at school and a crowded bus ride home, I’d head for the peace and quiet of my room to relax with a good book. But then my mother would call out, “Let’s go shopping.” The last thing I wanted to do was go to a crowded shopping mall. I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t have a word for it. But now I know: I’m an empath.
As a psychiatrist in private practice, a clinical faculty member at UCLA, and an empath herself, Dr. Judith Orloff understands the special challenges and strengths of empaths. In her new book, The Empath’s Survival Guide, she explains what it means to be an empath and how to deal with challenging people and situations in what can be an exhausting, overstimulating world.
If some of these situations sound familiar, you, too, could be an empath. Do you:
As research has shown, emotions are contagious (Hatfield, Rapson, & Le, 2009; see Kravetz, 2017). And empaths are especially sensitive to others’ emotional energies. Because they’re so attuned to others, they can get easily exhausted in crowds, be drawn into codependent relationships, exhaust themselves trying to solve others’ problems, or burn out from too much caregiving. Yet empathy is also a gift that brings greater insight and understanding. Some of the finest therapists, doctors, nurses, professors, writers, designers, musicians, artists, and leaders in many fields have been empaths.
Orloff shows empaths how to create balance in their lives, to become aware of their needs and work with them. Her advice includes:
Learning to honor their gifts and sensitivities benefits not only empaths themselves but those around them. Orloff says that empaths “represent a vital opening for humanity to grow into a more heart-centered and intuitive awareness”—something our world could certainly use more of (2017, p. 27).
Hatfield, E., Rapson, R. L., Le, Y.C. (2009). Emotional contagion and empathy. In J. Decety & W. Ickes (Eds.). The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (pp. 19-30). Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
Kravetz, L.D. (2017). Strange Contagion: Inside the surprising science of infectious behaviors and viral emotions and what they tell us about ourselves. New York, NY: HarperCollins
Orloff, J. (2017). The Empath’s Survival Guide. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.